Sofie (our setter): “The United States is weird.”
Many of my friends and family members keep asking me how living over in Europe is different from living in the United States. This past week, I have been making mental notes about things that I have noticed are different from what I am used to back at home.
Listed below are some of the differences that I have encountered along my journey as a professional athlete moving from the United States to Sweden:
1) Weight (kilograms versus pounds). Everything in the weight room is in kilograms.
2) Height (inches and feet versus centimeters):
-“How tall are you?”
-“I’m 6’ 3.”
-“What does that mean?”
3) Temperature (Fahrenheit vs. Celsius). I’ll tell my teammates how cold it is back in Ohio or how warm it is in South Carolina, and they just stare at me because that number means nothing to them.
4) Money. I get paid in Swedish Crowns. The debit card I was given also has a chip in it. This is common for everyone in Europe to have. My teammates were confused when I said that no one I knew had this back at home.
*I use several iPhone apps to assist me with differences 1-4 on this list.*
5) Military time. I finally know what time practice starts when it says 15:30, 17:00, etc. on the schedule. (Okay maybe I still occasionally need to count on my fingers just to make sure I’m on time.)
6) Showers. I’ve learned how to fully embrace European style showering with my teammates (one square room, several shower heads, no curtains). Okay then.
7) Heating. The heating system in my apartment is a bit different over here. They have these things where you turn a knob on the side to make it warmer or cooler:
8) Birthdays. When it is someone’s birthday on my team, we all sing Happy Birthday in Swedish, English, and then Polish. Also, when it’s your birthday, YOU are the one who is responsible for baking for the team for that particular day at practice.
9) Outlets. Okay, I get that plugs over here are different, but where are the outlets!? There are very few in my apartment, and it took me about a month to locate a couple of them in Espresso House. Outlets are everywhere in coffee shops in the US.
10) Hockey. It’s a way of life here.
11) Fast Food. It’s pretty nonexistent over here. Sure there’s a McDonald’s and a Burger King every now and then, but no more than that in a smaller city. I think my teammates would be shocked if they went down a typical busy street filled with at least 12 different fast food options within 1 mile of one another.
12) Language. I have no idea what anyone around me is saying. I only talk if I am at practice or hanging out with some teammates if they are generous enough to speak English when I am around. Other than that, I can almost go through an entire day without saying a word. One thing I’ve never understood is that when you tell someone you speak English, why do they try talking in Swedish slower and louder? I still don’t think that is going to help, but I truly do appreciate the effort. OR I have several elderly adults who just continue to talk to me in Swedish after I’ve told them several times I don’t understand. I don’t think they care though, so I just smile and laugh with them J
13) Bakeries. You cannot walk down a street without seeing at least 10 pastry and or candy shops.
14) Restaurants. If you go out for a nice meal, you are not rushed out as soon as you are finished eating. When you sit down at a table, you’re expected/more than welcome to sit at that table for the rest of the night. If a restaurant is full, they won’t put your name on a waiting list because it’s possible that everyone in there will not leave until closing time. Also, there is no tipping in Sweden and many other parts of Europe!
15) Coffee. You can never have too much coffee here. Scandinavians drink more coffee per capita than any other area of the world.
16) Laundry. Laundry is a constant struggle. It is very rare to have your own washer and dryer in your own apartment. You share 2 machines with the whole apartment complex, sign up for times, and have people that still take the machines when you are signed up. It can be super frustrating, especially when you have volleyball 6 days a week and need to be in uniform for all of the practices. I’ve got a good system down now, but when I first tried to read the directions on everything (in Swedish), I wish you could have seen the look on my face. I have yet to see dryer sheets anywhere as well.
17) Dishwashers. I have yet to see one here. (I think I like washing everything better by hand now that I am used to it.)
18) Leaders. Sweden has a ceremonial King and royal family. However, it is governed by a prime minister and Parliament similar to that of England. The United States is governed by a president and Congress.
19) Trash. In Sweden and much of Europe, you have to separate trash into different categories before taking them to the dumpsters (paper/cardboard, soft plastic, hard plastic, metal, glass, leftover food, etc.). Otherwise you get fined. There’s an actual video camera that watches you when you are throwing your trash out.
20) Relationships. Dating coaches is 100% acceptable over here. I’ve seen it in just about every country I’ve played volleyball in since arriving in Europe.
21) Grocery shopping. Grocery shopping is usually a nightmare. Where is the JIF? Where are all of the whole grain foods? Good luck trying to make a delicious recipe from Pinterest. It would take me months to track down the proper ingredients. Reading labels is quite the task, and I can’t use my translator/dictionary in the grocery store because I don’t have wireless internet in there. Another thing that is quite different for me is that you have to choose how many bags you think it will take for your groceries and then you have to pay for the bags you use. You can bring them if you remember the next time you come, but I almost always seem to forget.
22) Transportation. Biking, walking, and buses are very popular ways that people get around in Sweden. I would say the most common and most used mode of transportation is trains.
23) Intelligence. Being book smart and not street smart is NOT ideal when living in a different country. I’m pretty sure my teammates wonder how the heck I made it through college. Having a college degree from a good school doesn’t mean much when it comes to scouting meetings, practices, and games in a different country.
24) Emotion. The Swedish and Polish do not mess around when it comes to yelling at referees. If they don’t like a call, they have absolutely no problem making sure that the ref and everyone else in the gym knows it. Our coach yells at the refs lot too, but lucky for him, the refs don’t know what he’s saying because they don’t understand Polish.
25) Traveling. Traveling can be a bit overwhelming. Everyone around me speaks either Polish or Swedish for hours and hours at a time. Honestly, it can drive you crazy after a while. Like that one time during preseason when we drove to Poland 13 hours there and 13 hours back two weekends in a row. Beats headphones have saved me from insanity on several occasions. The plane ride to Stockholm was a new experience as well. When they came around to offer coffee to everyone, I was super pumped because it was very early in the morning. It wasn’t until after I finished my cup that the stewardess asked me for money in Swedish. I don’t usually pull my foreign “I don’t understand” expression, but it worked and I got it for free. I’ll have to thank my former teammates from Turkey (Serenat, Cansu, and Didem) for teaching me everything they know when it comes to that facial expression. This is when the ‘oh sorry, she’s American,’ or ‘she’s Turkish’ phrase is used by helpful teammates.
26) School. Schooling seems to be very different over here. A lot of the girls on my team went to volleyball/sports school once they were 15. This is where they complete high school. Also, I have learned from some of my teammates that a lot of people work for several years before considering college, and it is very common to see older adults in college. It’s not the typical 18-22 year olds that you see going to universities in the United States. I also find it interesting that no one has mascots here. I don’t know of ANY school that does not have a trademark or mascot back at home.
27) Censorship. It doesn’t really exist over here. We can have absolutely everything and anything on our warm-up music. It still surprises me every time. Movies and television shows don’t block out swear-words or nudity, and the radio doesn’t have edited versions of music. Swearing around adults isn’t that big of a deal here either.
28) Volleyball terms. It’s not the 10-foot line; it’s the 3 meter line. Peppering is an unknown word. Hitting lines are referred to as in-spike. Liberos cannot serve in matches. The beginning of the Swedish word for ‘out’ sounds almost exactly like ‘in’ in English. The volleyball we use is not the same as the one I used when playing in college.
29) Traffic. Traffic lights are different here and there are roundabouts everywhere. There are also a lot of streets just for people to walk on where cars are not allowed, especially in shopping areas. Parking is a rarity, and you even have to pay for parking when you go to the grocery store.
30) Homework. Wait…I don’t have homework or a test coming up for school? I can read a book for fun, download new music, and I have time to write this blog entry? YES! This is awesome.
31) Eating. Breakfast consists of a lot of lunch meat, sandwiches, and beans. You can eat Swedish meatballs and cinnamon rolls (called kanelbulle) for breakfast, lunch, and/or dinner and it’s absolutely acceptable. Sounds perfect to me. What doesn’t sound perfect: my teammates putting ketchup on their spaghetti… Also, everyone eats super properly with a knife and fork at all times, even when they are eating things like hamburgers. I’ve started doing it and it’s actually really convenient.
32) Drinks. None of my teammates like Dr. Pepper. What!? They said that no one likes that drink here. Around the holidays, they drink this soft drink called Julmust which does not have ideal taste for me. I guess we can call it even. When it comes to alcohol, have fun paying approximately $15.00 for one cup of a mixed drink. I’ll pass. You have to be 20 to buy alcohol from Systembolaget (the ONLY place where you can buy alcohol), but you can go out to a bar or restaurant at the age of 18 and buy drinks when you are out. Wouldn’t one age make more sense?
33) Dress. It’s not really acceptable to wear sweats outside of going to practice or games. Everyone dresses nicely all the time. Some of my teammates even put on jeans after practice when they are going home at 10:00 at night. It’s hard for me to comprehend this. If you wear sweats at a coffee shop and there are a hundred other people there, you may be the only one. I kind of like this though. I need to grow up and realize I’m not a college athlete anymore, a time when wearing sweats almost every day on campus was totally acceptable.
34) MVP. There are two MVPs of every match, one from each team. Whoever wins MVP gets a gift from the hosting team. Our club usually gives out flowers. Other clubs have given out nail polish, make-up, lotion and sprays, journals, and other miscellaneous items. One time the prize was a bottle of champagne. You know you’re not playing in the United States anymore when that happens. The NCAA would have a field day with that one.
35) Mail. There’s nothing like getting important documents in the mail from the club I play for, the bank, the immigration department, etc., and not being able to read anything that it says because it’s all in a different language.
36) Words and phrases. The main words you hear when you go out with your teammates are your name, “the American,” and USA.
37) Bathrooms. Public restrooms in Europe are a whole new ball game. It is very common to have to pay to use them! You either have to put coins into a machine for the door to unlock, or there is an actual cashier who you pay and she unlocks the door from behind the counter. I’ve only experienced this a few times in Sweden, but in Slovakia, France, and other places in the heart of Europe, it appears to be the norm. The majority of public restrooms here are also unisex.
38) Daylight. It gets almost completely dark here at around 3:45-4 pm. Sometimes it feels like it is midnight when it’s only 5 or 6:00 pm.
39) Bedding. Comforters here are much different than ones you would find in the United States. You basically stuff a big pillow into a sheet the exact size as the top of the bed, and that is your main blanket. It’s still warm and comfortable. Then when you want to wash your sheets, you just take out the big cushiony pillow from inside and you can easily wash it.
40) Music and Movies. It doesn’t matter where you are in Europe, American music is played EVERYWHERE. Even when I was training in Slovakia, I met about 4 people total who spoke English, but everyone still had their favorite American songs. Movies made in the U.S. are also just as popular here as they are back in the States. I went to see Catching Fire in a theater, and it was quite a different experience. First of all, you have to reserve seats for movies. You don’t just walk in and sit wherever you want. Before the movie started, a guy from the theater walked to the front and welcomed everyone and did a little skit. He told a lot of jokes and everyone around me was laughing, but once again, I just smiled because I had no idea what he was saying. Swedish subtitles were also on the entire film. When watching television, I’ll get really excited if I see a movie that I am familiar with and like, until I realize that it is dubbed in Swedish. Side note: Avicii is Swedish. If I hear the song Wake Me Up or Hey Brother on the radio or a warm-up tape again, I might go crazy.
I’m sure there are many more things I could have put on this list, but I think that this list gives a good overall picture of what it’s like to live as a professional volleyball player far from home.
All of these differences have made me much more appreciative of life. Everywhere you go is different. Even each individual state in the U.S. is diverse, and traveling halfway around the world just equals more differences. However, one thing that every place has in common is that there are people everywhere you go. Differences make us all unique, but they also bring us together because it’s really interesting to learn about how other people live. My closest friend on the team (Sofie) and I talk about these differences all the time. I’ve lived in Sweden for almost 6 months now, and we are still amazed at some of the stories we tell each other when it comes to our cultures. I cannot describe how different I feel after having lived in a different country for an extended period of time. I feel so much more mature, ready to take on anything that comes my way (good or bad), and so much more loving and accepting of everyone that crosses my path each day.
Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go.” -Joshua 1:9